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Digiday Research: Marketers struggle with AI, but are bullish on its use

At the Digiday AI Marketing Summit last month in Santa Barbara, California, we surveyed 37 marketers about how their companies use artificial intelligence. Check out our earlier research on how marketers rate their companies’ understanding of AI here. Learn more about our upcoming events here.

Quick takeaways:

  • Marketers surveyed are applying AI to media buying more than other areas of marketing.
  • Fifty percent of marketers say obtaining buy-in is a challenge when incorporating AI.
  • Over half of marketers believe conferences and events are the best places to learn about AI.
  • Fifty-three percent of marketers believe tech companies attract the most AI talent.

Companies are bullish on AI
Integrating AI into marketing is taking longer than marketers have expected, but they are still trying to apply it to as many functions as possible. According to Digiday’s survey nearly half (48 percent) of the companies that have implemented AI into their marketing have done so in multiple areas, leading with media buying (55 percent).

Companies are bullish on AI’s ability to improve media buying because of its ability to forecast media spending and its mid-campaign retargeting capabilities, the second most common function to which marketers in Digiday’s survey applied AI. Because AI can process massive amounts of data nearly instantaneously, companies use it to measure campaign performance and redirect ad budgets toward top-performing ad placements in campaigns. Sixty-percent of marketers in a Salesforce survey believe AI will transform programmatic media buying within the next five years. However, AI is a long way off from fully automating media buying.

While companies have used AI to personalize emails or retain existing customers, they are in the minority. Only 24 percent of companies in Digiday’s survey use AI to improve their email strategies, while 15 percent of them use it for customer retention.

Getting employees to prioritize AI is difficult
While developing AI technologies can be expensive and time-consuming, marketers in Digiday’s survey said the biggest challenge is obtaining the opt-in from necessary employees. As one marketer at the event put it: “It takes a lot of work to promote AI internally.”

Another event attendee noted issues that arise when multiple teams across a company work on AI. “AI is in specific departments,” said the attendee, “but nobody is prioritizing it because it runs across the fabric of the organization. That’s the biggest roadblock.”

Conferences are the best places to learn about AI
AI can be tricky to understand; definitions for the term vary widely. Colleges like Virginia Commonwealth University and tech boot camps like General Assembly have added AI courses. But schools aren’t the first place marketers go to learn about AI, according to Digiday’s survey. Over half of respondents said conferences and events were the best places to learn about AI. Nearly half of respondents thought learning on their own was best, and just under a quarter thought their jobs provided the best learning environment.

Tech wins the talent war
When it comes to attracting AI talent, media and advertising companies are losing out to the tech industry. Mike Racic, president of media operations for agency iCrossing, believes the talent pool of people qualified to work in AI is small, and those who do often work for behemoths like Google. Marketers in the Digiday survey shared his sentiments, with 53 percent of them saying technology companies attract the most AI talent, followed by the banking and finance industries, and then media and advertising companies.

People who work in AI are expensive to hire and take years to train. Element AI, a Montreal-based research lab, estimated there are fewer than 10,000 individuals capable of conducting AI research. Given the steep decline in venture capital funding to advertising companies and continued layoffs across the publishing industry, few within the advertising and media industries can make such costly hires.

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